Is MCS-accreditation worth it?
Posted by Tasha Kosviner on 17 September 2014 at 9:01 am
We’ve noticed that some installers of solar thermal are now offering to fit solar hot water systems outside existing quality assurance schemes.
One installer is claiming to be able to save their customers up to £2000 by not putting their installation through the rigorous accreditation process required by the microgeneration certification scheme (MCS).
MCS requires proof of a certain standard of workmanship both from installers and from the technology themselves. The scheme is designed to guarantee you a system that works and a route to redress if something goes wrong. Accreditation is also required if you wish to claim government cashback through schemes such as the renewable heat incentive (RHI).
But some installers are arguing that the costs associated with accreditation, particularly for customers wishing to claim RHI, are so onerous that they are pushing the price of solar thermal beyond the reach of many customers and forcing installers who opt for accreditation out of the market.
"Government incentives, far from driving the market, are making the market totally unsustainable for companies," says Roger Budgeon, of Gloucestershire-based installers GreenShop Solar. "The stop, go flat out, stop again plus the cost burden (which the unsuspecting customer is paying) is wrecking the market. The government should raise awareness and drive the low carbon technologies through legislation not short term financial inducements."
So how much is the burden of MCS actually costing the householder?
A lot, claims Roger. “[Installing outside of the MCS scheme], using the same equipment, solar collector, tank and controls, the end user price is £1200 to £2000 cheaper," says the GreenShop Solar website.
“[This is] because there are no MCS/RHI legislation paperwork requirements - no green deal report, no EPC [energy performance certificate] report, no company MCS certification or registration costs. In fact the job and work are exactly the same, the only difference is we have removed the burden and associated expense of the accreditation supporting paperwork!”
But others dispute Roger's claims, saying the cost to businesses - and therefore the amount that should be passed on to customers - is actually likely to be much lower.
Stuart Elmes, founder and chief executive of solar panel manufacturers Viridian Solar, has unpicked the costs of a solar thermal installation that has MCS accreditation and qualifies for RHI compared to one that does not. You can read his detailed comparisons here. He calculates that a small business making just one installation a year could end up paying £1955 extra costs for that installation.
However, due to the one off, upfront nature of some costs to installers, Stuart finds that the cost per installation rapidly diminishes as a business makes more installations. If the business makes 12 installations a year, or one a month, the extra cost is £373 a job and for 100 installations, it’s £252 per job.
Naturally the microgeneration certification scheme dispute GreenShop Solar's claims as well.
"It would appear that the statement made is suggesting that the installer company has to off-set all their costs against one installation," says their interim CEO, Gideon Richards. "In reality many installations may well be the combination of solar thermal with another RHI related technology, e.g. biomass and solar thermal. Also the costs borne establishing the company as an MCS quality installer are spread across all the Solar Thermal installations over the year and life of the certification."
Whatever the size additional costs, and no-one is suggesting there are none, the customer ends up footing this bill. So, assuming your installation qualifies for RHI, will your extra costs be offset by RHI payments or not?
Paul Barwell, CEO of the Solar Trade Association, of which Greenshop Solar is a member, says emphatically, ‘yes’.
“We urge consumers to be very cautious of statements such as [Greenshop Solar’s],” he says. “By paying a tiny fraction extra up front, customers get all the extra security on the transaction that comes with MCS certification and renewable energy consumer code (RECC) membership, not to mention cash flow from RHI payments that will far outweigh the ‘extra costs’ of MCS and RHI admin. The Green Deal assessment only costs £100-150, whereas for a six person occupancy the RHI payment would total £3,000-3,500. Even for a two person home it would be £1,000-1,500. We do understand that MCS requirements can be burdensome for installers, which is why we are regularly in touch with MCS about ongoing improvements to support the industry. Opting out of MCS and RHI is definitely not the right way forward.”
And there are other benefits to using an MCS-accredited installer and product.
"All MCS installers and products are rigorously assessed against technical standards and the installer companies must abide by a Trading Standards Institute approved consumer code to maintain their ongoing certification, ensuring that they are working to a high standard and appropriately without mis-selling or misleading the consumer," says Gideon. " MCS has been designed to support a growing industry by providing robust standards, and thereby giving companies an advantage in a competitive market place."
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